NC17: Memorandum submitted by Sue Lloyd, Co-author Jolly Phonics
· The National Curriculum was a major attempt to raise standards. Unfortunately the improvement has been minimal. If anything, the improvement has helped the more able and has widened the gap between the top and the bottom. This submission gives the reasons why the National Curriculum and other central initiatives fail to bring the desired results and what should be done instead.
1. State education is a monopoly. With no competition to keep it in control it has developed all the problems that we have come to associate with monopolies in business. Production costs escalate and the quality of the product diminishes.
2. Standards cannot rise far when the children cannot read and write easily. This problem was recognised by the government. However, the way it was dealt with was, and still is, inefficient and very expensive.
3. For decades education has followed the fads and fashions of academics, whether their ideas were effective or not. Advice always came from the top, and still does. The educationalists were far removed from the realities of teaching every day in the classroom. Schools were put under pressure to follow the new ideas, such as the 'look and say' method of teaching reading. It was the fact that it was a monopoly which enabled the top people to become too powerful and impose their ideas on schools. This is still the problem today.
4. The inspectorate should have been looking at results and standards only. Instead they worked with the educationalists. They were critical of schools that were not following the latest thinking and added to the pressure on schools to conform.
5. The government recognised that reading standards were not good enough, even after the introduction of the National Curriculum, so the National Literacy Strategy was brought in. Schools were put under great pressure to follow this new strategy, without being provided with research evidence of its effectiveness. The research was carried out and the average reading quotient was not even 100. If this research had been made available to schools, then headteachers could have made a calculated decision about whether it was suitable for their school or not.
6. The National Literacy Strategy brought some improvements but still failed many children, so more initiatives were promoted, such as Progression in Phonics, Playing with Sounds, Early Literacy Strategy etc. These new initiatives were developed after widespread consultations. It was hoped that this would result in a better product. In fact it produced a mixed muddle of strategies, which still left children floundering at the bottom. None of these initiatives were tested by independent researchers.
7. Finally, resulting from the Inquiry into the teaching of reading, Jim Rose was directed to find out the best method of teaching reading. In his report he concluded that synthetic phonics produces the highest results. This was known by many of us teachers decades ago but the system of only listening to the advice from the top prevented anyone showing interest in what we were saying, or even feeling free to find out for themselves.
8. Letters and Sounds is the latest initiative. It is, after Phase 1, a synthetic phonics method. In my opinion it is the best advice we have had so far. Unfortunately other factions and departments have also insisted that their ideas for teaching and monitoring must be carried out as well, such as the Early Years Foundation Stage. There is only so much time in the day. This means that the system is overloaded and nothing will be taught rigorously enough to be effective for that bottom group.
9. Failure, or only partial success, seems to come with every new idea or initiative from the top. The expense to the taxpayer is phenomenal. It is a sign that the system itself needs changing.
10. It looks increasing likely that central government is incapable of providing sufficiently sound advice, and in the right quantities. Too many people and departments are involved. They provide so much untested advice that nobody knows what they should do! Schools would be better if the heads and teachers were left entirely alone, free from all initiatives, including the National Curriculum. The money saved from paying for initiatives and advisors' salaries would be better used for providing extra help for the slower learners.
11. The primary curriculum is overloaded because responsibility for subjects is given to different people and departments. Each one tries to get the best results for their subject. None of them keep their proposals into a manageable time slot. If primary schools concentrated on making sure that all their children were fluent at reading, writing and handling basic numbers, then the secondary teachers would be able to achieve far more. The other primary subjects should be at the discretion of the headteacher and would, hopefully, be more relaxed.
12. Headteachers should be accountable to the governors and parents, and not to the local authority. This would give them more control and allow them to develop a school that has more character and speciality. Parents want their children to be good at the basics and headteachers would work towards that.
13. Inspectors of primary schools should use simple standardised tests to measure the standards being achieved in reading, spelling and maths. If the children failed to achieve the required standards, it should be reported to the parents and governors. Then they could decide whether the head should be replaced.
14. In fact the running of schools should be more like private schools. It is tempting to think higher results are achieved by private schools because of smaller classes. No doubt this is a factor, but the main reason, I believe, for their success is that they are accountable to parents and free from state interference.